Sick days

Reasons why employees are taking sick days & how you can reduce them


Whether employees call in sick for legitimate or not-so-legitimate reasons, it can have a huge knock on effect. Either the work is neglected, others have to pick it up, causing stress due to increase workload, or you have to pay overtime, or hire temporary staff, all of which can impact on the profitability of your business. Therefore, it is in your best interest to understand why employees are taking sick days and the steps you can put in place to reduce levels.

In the UK, one of the biggest causes of short term sickness (55%) and long term absences (63%) is stress attributed to the workplace (source: Chartered Institute of Personnel Development CIPD). Other top causes of short term sickness were minor ailments such as colds, flu, headaches, migraines and upset stomachs. Each week, 1 million workers will take sick leave in the UK alone.

With sickness undoubtedly costing companies millions in increased labour costs and loss of profit, Consult HR’s Julie Pollock shares her top tips for effectively getting a grip on employees taking too many sick days off work.

sick days

Causes of too much sick leave

When it comes to absenteeism in the workplace due to illness, there are two main reasons: a genuine illness, or an abuse of the system by workers who are fit to work but who have chosen to call in sick. Both of these reasons can be caused by one or more of the following:

  • Actual physical or mental illness
  • Personal issues in their private life
  • An unhealthy lifestyle
  • Problems in the workplace, which are causing either short or long term stress
  • The need to care for family members
  • Low job satisfaction
  • As general unwillingness or want to work

Getting to the source of the problem

With such a wide and varied scope of reasons as to why employees could be calling in sick, finding a standard solution which works in the majority of situations is impractical. Therefore, a good place to start is by analysing the main reasons employees state for taking sick days to find out which comes out on top. Armed with this knowledge, you can come up with a practical solution.

Taking action on repeat offenders

A pattern of sick leave abuse can generally be identified in someone who has repeatedly – over a period of time – violated the organisation’s attendance policy. In order to take appropriate action, it is important to have a clearly written policy in place, specifying your company’s standards and employee requirements. The document should state the process which employees are expected to follow should absence from work arise. Having clear attendance and absence policies will keep employees versed on the standards expected of them, as well as assisting managers when dealing with proceedings. Furthermore, the policy should be readily available to staff, such as on the company’s intranet. This easy access and high visibility will enhance its importance. Finally, asking employees to read and confirm they have understood the procedures regarding absence helps improve compliance and stops them using the excuse that they didn’t know what procedures to follow.

Other measures to reduce employees’ absence due to sickness

  • Look for changes in workflow and attitude, paying attention to subtle indications of unhappiness, stress or tension in staff.
  • Offer an incentive to employees with zero absenteeism rates.
  • When hiring new employees, check their records of absenteeism with previous employers.
  • Ensure new employees are fully aware of your company’s policy’s regarding sickness.
  • Research methods for reducing physical injury at work, especially for workers who are standing all day or carrying out repetitive movements.
  • Ensure management and supervisors are fully trained in how to effectively deal with staff with high levels of unexplained sick leave.
  • Offer opportunities for exercise, either on-site or with a local gym.
  • Consider offering staff additional days off as part of their annual benefits, which are specifically for ‘preventive health care’.
  • Don’t punish genuinely sick workers.  Make sure to consider their overall attendance record, if they are generally a good attender but are having a period of bad health, use your discretion and don’t be too quick to jump to formal disciplinary procedings.

Adopting a firm yet compassionate approach to managing sick leave in the workplace, will help you effectively deal with the few employees who are taking advantage of it. The key is to clearly communicate your policy on reporting sickness from the outset.

If you are struggling with high levels of absenteeism due to employee sickness, help is at hand. At Consult HR, many companies have benefited from our outsourced HR services. For more information, get in touch here.